Information on walking with your dog responsibly on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail.
There are currently 31 stiles (down from 530 in 1993) that need to be crossed on Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail, and they are usually provided and maintained by the National Park Authority. Most of these stiles incorporate ‘dog gates’.
The purpose of a traditional stile or gate is to enable the public to exercise their right of passage while at the same time ensuring that a farmer’s boundary fence or hedge is stock proof; on sheep farms – to a standard that will contain lambs.
Where ‘dog gates’ are fitted they are usually designed to exclude lambs; this construction unfortunately may not allow a big enough gap for the largest of dogs.
National Trail management policy is in tune with the sprit of the Disability Discrimination Act and adopts the Gap – Gate – Stile approach.
When a stile is due for replacement, replacement with another stile is the last option, and only at the landowner’s insistence.
In law, stiles are considered to be ‘limitations on the path’.
This means that when a path was registered or created as a public right of way, one of the conditions was that stiles were maintained at specific points. In view of this we cannot compel landowners to remove or alter stiles, it has to be negotiated.
Where there is a public demand for the provision of dog stiles, the National Park Authority considers the modification of a stile, subject to funding availability and the agreement of the landowner, who will often request a dog gate to reduce vandalism to boundary fences by dog owners.
We now consider fitting dog gates on all stile replacement and repairs. However, with a current rate of about 20 stiles being replaced each year, it will be some time before all of the Coast Path is adapted for the passage of dogs.
Where stiles no longer serve a useful agricultural purpose, they can be removed. However, the replacement of stiles with gates is not universally popular, due to the unfortunate fact that they are sometimes propped or left open.
The National Park Authority is responding positively to the demand for dog stiles and will continue its programme of stile modification, as funding allows. However, although dogs are allowed on the Coast Path, under close control as a natural accompaniment to walkers, the National Park Authority has neither the power nor duty to ensure the free passage of dogs; neither is there provision for this in highway law.
It is reasonable to assume that people walking country paths would be confident of their dog’s ability to negotiate stiles or else be able to lift their dogs over stiles.
The funding provided by Natural Resources Wales is directed at managing the Coast Path for the benefit of walkers and the National Park Authority’s duties and powers relate to the passage of the public only, and not necessarily their dogs. Therefore, priority for expenditure on stiles is their safety and convenience for the public.
Responsible dog walking on the Coast Path
Each year the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park receives complaints concerning dogs.
- Cleaning up after their dog.
- Keeping dogs under close control, preferably on a lead. (Each year a number of sheep are chased over the cliff by loose dogs; this fact sours relationships with landowners, making it more difficult to negotiate new access opportunities. Farmers have the right to shoot dogs that worry or chase sheep).
- Keeping dogs away from other walkers, particularly on narrow sections. (Many walkers are distrustful of dogs, and do not want to be bothered by loose dogs).
The Pembrokeshire Coast is very important for wildlife. Disturbance by dogs has a debilitating effect on ground nesting/feeding birds. Please do not let your dog hunt/flush wild creatures.
The byelaws for access land say “dogs should be and continue to be under proper control and be effectively restrained from causing annoyance to any person and from worrying or disturbing any animal or bird.
There are a number of current conservation initiatives to increase the grazing of coastal slopes. As a result there may be flocks of sheep and other stock, such as ponies, in places where there were none before.
Dog owners should be aware that having dogs with them in the countryside could make them vulnerable to dangers that walkers without dogs do not experience.
• Other dogs may fight with your dog. There have been cases where owners have been bitten trying to break up dogfights. This is more of a problem where the dogs are resident on the path (eg. farm dogs).
Many rights of way give access to farmland that is grazed by cattle. Unlike certain breeds of bull, cattle are not prohibited from occupying fields crossed by public paths.
While a herd of cattle may appear intimidating, they will invariably approach walkers out of curiosity. There have been cases in the past where cattle have been panicked and caused injury to walkers, especially those accompanied by dogs.
Farmers are well aware of the public rights of way that cross their land and the need to ensure that livestock will not endanger walkers. It is sensible, however, to treat the cattle that you may encounter with caution. The Ramblers’ Association has therefore issued the following advice to assist walkers who encounter cattle:
- Move carefully and quietly, walk around cattle.
- Be particularly wary of situations where you may unintentionally be ‘herding’ cattle into a confined space where their only means of escape is back past you
- Never pass between a cow and its calf
- Leave all gates as you found them.
- Be prepared for cattle to react to your presence, especially if you have dog with you
- Always keep your dog close and under proper control, ideally on a lead.
- Don’t hang on to your dog if you feel threatened by cattle – let it go.
11 dogs are known to have jumped off the cliffs in 2008 alone, four died. The Coastguard advises that owners should keep their dog on a lead; once a dog picks up a scent that dog has no thought for its safety!
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